Sunday 3 December 2006

Sunday 3 December 2006
DIRECTOR: Mel Gibson
WRITERS: Benedict Fitzgerald & Mel Gibson
CAST: Jim Caviezel (Jesus), Maia Morgenstern (Mary), Christo Jivkov (John), Francesco De Vito (Peter), Monica Bellucci (Magdalen), Mattia Sbragia (Caiphas), Toni Bertorelli (Annas),
Luca Lionello (Judas), Hristo Shopov (Pontius Pilate), Claudia Gerini (Claudia Procles), Fabio Sartor (Abenader), Giacinto Ferro (Joseph), Olek Mincer (Nicodemus) & Rosalinda Celentano (Satan)

Jesus Christ is betrayed by Judas Iscariot, arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane and sentenced to crucifixion...

Mel Gibson's controversial Biblical epic, hated for its alleged anti-Semitic views and lauded for its powerful imagery, is a great example of a movie that passionately wants to preach its Christian message but gets the emphasis completely wrong...

The Passion Of The Christ essentially recreates the last 12 hours of Christ's life, from his arrest in Gethsemane to his eventual crucifixion at Golgotha. Gibson gambled $50 million of his own money to finance the movie, which went on to become the most successful independent film ever made, so his enthusiasm and belief in the project is certainly not in question. But it's perplexing to find that the film has far too much focus on historical accuracy and less on spirituality.

For modern audiences, Gibson's film is perhaps the most visually accurate depiction of 33 A.D, while the numerous scenes of flagellation and the torturous crucifixion are painfully realized, but beyond its technical bravura, there's little else to really connect with.

If you're a believer in the events being depicted; you'll already be pre-loaded with the required knowledge to paste over the movie's many cracks. For people with only a layman's knowledge of the Biblical story, The Passion Of The Christ offers very little actual substance. It's a film that preaches to the converted. The rest of us? Well, we watch someone endure betrayal, unspeakable torture and death for 2 hours -- morbidly fascinating, but nothing that really inspired me to find out more about Christianity.

You definitely get out what you put in with this film. It's stylistically a superb piece of filmmaking, given weight with the Aramaic dialogue (subtitles were a late addition!) spoken throughout, and little flourishes of Gibson's own design. Personally, I found it to be a very interesting and occasionally affecting portrayal, but one that ultimately left me with mixed feelings.

Jim Caviezel is excellent as Jesus, although 90% of the acting required is to look suitably pained and bloodied. We are afforded flashbacks to events before Jesus' arrest, which give us glimpses of a more spiritual movie that Gibson chose not to broaden.

The supporting cast are all strong, although their characters aren't readily explained to non-believers. Monica Bellucci plays Magdalen, who I know to be a prostitute, but the film treats her just as a friend of Jesus and Mary. Thankfully, Mary (Maia Morgenstern) is better used, thanks to some more human flashbacks between her and Jesus. One moment where Mary comes to her son's aid as he carries his cross, paralleling a time when she came to his aid as a young boy, is perhaps the movie's sole moment when true emotional humanity bubbles to the surface.

The rest of the cast all perform well with underwritten roles, particularly Hristo Shopov as Pontius Pilate and Francesco De Vito as Peter. I also liked the use of Rosalinda Celentano as an androgynous Satan throughout the movie.

Ultimately, when filming anything religious, you're going to please and anger people in equal measure. For instance, Gibson's film squarely puts the blame for Jesus' death on the Jews, which caused upset amongst a people who contest this deicide. There are a lot of good moments in the film and, for me, this Biblical story remains incredibly powerful whatever your faith might be. It's just a shame the focus on realistically brutal torture sequences seems to come at the expense of any real insight into Jesus as a man.


PICTURE: The 2.35:1 widescreen image is crisp and detailed with deep blacks and good handling of brighter scenes.

SOUND: The DTS soundtrack is marginally better than the DD5.1 mix (check out the earthquake), but both are decent attempts to place you amongst a 33 A.D civilisation.



Overall, this is a very disappointing disc given its rich production history and notable impact around the world. The lack of extras is criminal, although the picture/sound reproduction is decent.